You’d think it would be hard for a band who once penned the lyrics “Sun shed its last rays, The seraphs fall, The angels are gone, The end will surely catch us all,” to get any doomier but with Emerald Forest and the Blackbird, this is precisely what Swallow The Sun have achieved. And it’s not just their lyrics that have managed to reach new depths of gloom. The music and delivery as a whole seems much bleaker than on previous releases, with slower tempos and guitars that spiral ever downwards. All of which is great news for those who like their music to make them feel like the life is slowly being drained from their veins and, let’s be honest; who doesn’t?
Announcing the album’s arrival is the sound of (what else?) the lazy drizzle of rain, accompanied by a descending keyboard melody that trickles away beneath a spoken word verse. As clichés go, it ticks all the boxes for Doom Metal Intro, but this is no bad thing. Clichés exist for a reason. Usually it’s because of misguided idolisation and a lack of originality, but sometimes it’s because a cliché really is the most effective art form. And when those guitars finally come crashing in beneath a monstrous set of vocal chords, the contrast makes them sound all the more powerful.
‘Emerald Forest and the Blackbird’ is a journey through mourning, anger, anguish and acceptance, one that twists and turns with the song’s narrative and, for this reason, it is a compelling listen, especially when listened to in tandem with reading the lyrics. But when the acoustic guitars of second track, ‘This Cut is the Deepest’ rise out of the ashes of the previous song, it’s a jarring contrast; one that seems to disrupt the atmosphere established early on by the album. It’s a beautifully delicate track with an infectious chorus, but it perhaps appears too early, jolting the listener back and forth through atmospheric extremes as the double bass drums and strangled vocals of the third track take the reins and steer into yet another course.
By the time the fourth track, ‘Cathedral Walls’, descends, a pattern has emerged. With its grinding tempo and mournful guitars, it’s another glaring change of pace, whilst the vocals of Nightwish’s Anette Olzon provide a hitherto absent aspect of graceful beauty. Again, the variety is welcome and it’s a thoughtful composition – one not without merit – but it seems to be shoehorned in.
The album’s best moments are undoubtedly towards its conclusion. ‘Labyrinth of London’ paints a horrifyingly grotesque picture whilst simultaneously evoking a strong sense of melancholy. The inclusion of William Blake’s London makes it an absolute work of art. ‘April 14th’ carries with it an overbearing sense of foreboding, whilst its pondering guitars, twinkling keys and spoken word verses are almost intimidating.
Emerald Forest and the Blackbird is Swallow The Sun’s most musically accomplished offering and one that explores realms worth of possibilities. It sees frontman Mikko Kotamäki’s aggressive vocals (arguably a weak point of previous albums) reach new strengths. So it’s a shame that the album seems to lack direction. Lurching from side to side and bucking like a mule, it’s extremely hard to keep hold of the reins. One gets the impression that Emerald Forest and the Blackbird is a composition set to a string of poems, and perhaps this accounts for the musical disparity between songs.